Hawaii Is a “Postcard from the Future”

Today, the New York Times published a good look at how Hawaii’s residential solar power industry, the most advanced in the US, is forcing obsolete power companies to change, and how those power companies are fighting back. Regular readers of The Power Line are already familiar with the issues, as well as the Edison Electric Institute’s agenda of sabotaging small scale solar generation.  The Times article about Hawaii shows why the electric industry is fighting a losing battle.

The utility wants to cut roughly in half the amount it pays customers for solar electricity they send back to the grid. But after a study showed that with some upgrades the system could handle much more solar than the company had assumed, the state’s public utilities commission ordered the utility to begin installations or prove why it could not.

It was but one sign of the agency’s growing impatience with what it considers the utility’s failure to adapt its business model to the changing market.

Hawaiian Electric is scrambling to accede to that demand, approving thousands of applications in recent weeks. But it is under pressure on other fronts as well. NextEra Energy, based in Florida, is awaiting approval to buy it, while other islands it serves are exploring defecting to form their own cooperative power companies.

It is also upgrading its circuits and meters to better regulate the flow of electricity. Rooftop solar makes far more power than any other single source, said Colton Ching, vice president for energy delivery at Hawaiian Electric, but the utility can neither control nor predict the output.

“At every different moment, we have to make sure that the amount of power we generate is equal to the amount of energy being used, and if we don’t keep that balance things go unstable,” he said, pointing to the illuminated graphs and diagrams tracking energy production from wind and solar farms, as well as coal-fueled generators in the utility’s main control room. But the rooftop systems are “essentially invisible to us,” he said, “because they sit behind a customer’s meter and we don’t have a means to directly measure them.”

For customers, such explanations offer little comfort as they continue to pay among the highest electric rates in the country and still face an uncertain solar future.

Note the “problem” cited by the Hawaii Electric staffer:

But the rooftop systems are “essentially invisible to us,” he said, “because they sit behind a customer’s meter and we don’t have a means to directly measure them.”

And why is that?  Because the power company has failed to install the digital metering technology that allows the power company to “see” behind the meter systems.  This is not a big deal.  But Hawaii Electric, like all major electric utilities, prefers to fight the solar trend, instead of building a more reliable and resilient distribution grid.

Here is a link to an article about the study that Times reporter Diane Cardwell mentions in her story.  Enphase Energy, maker of micro-inverters and digital management systems, showed that Hawaii Electric’s Colton Ching was simply wrong to claim that the company couldn’t add any new solar generators to its system.

Renewable power company NextEra Energy is showing Hawaii Electric what happens when dinosaurs refuse to change.  They disappear.

Load defection”  is the final threat to Hawaii Electric, that they can do little about:

Installers — who saw their fast-growing businesses slow to a trickle — are also frustrated with the pace. For those who can afford it, said James Whitcomb, chief executive of Haleakala Solar, which he started in 1977, the answer may lie in a more radical solution: Avoid the utility and its grid altogether.

Customers are increasingly asking about the batteries that he often puts in along with the solar panels, allowing them to store the power they generate during the day for use at night. It is more expensive, but it breaks consumer reliance on the utility’s network of power lines.

“I’ve actually taken people right off the grid,” he said, including a couple who got tired of waiting for Hawaiian Electric to approve their solar system and expressed no interest in returning to utility service. “The lumbering big utilities that are so used to taking three months to study this and then six months to do that — what they don’t understand is that things are moving at the speed of business. Like with digital photography — this is inevitable.”

And FirstEnergy Shows Its Hand on HB2201

Today, The State Journal published energy reporter Sarah Tincher’s story on the differing views of HB2201.

In her story, she quoted FirstEnergy PR guy, and our old friend, as follows:

“FirstEnergy is concerned about the way we credit customer generators because we credit them back at a rate that is equal to the retail cost they pay for electricity,” said Todd Meyers, a spokesman for FirstEnergy’s West Virginia subsidiaries, Mon Power and Potomac Edison.

“Those smaller generators get the benefit of using our electrical infrastructure to sell back the electricity they generate without paying to use that infrastructure,” Meyers said. “In principle, we don’t believe it is fair for the rest of our Mon Power and Potomac Edison customers in West Virginia to subsidize small generators.”

So, now FirstEnergy’s PR guy is directly contradicting FirstEnergy’s chief lobbyist Sammy Gray’s statements to the WV House Energy Committee and the WV Senate Judiciary Committee that FirstEnergy interpreted the “cross-subsidization” language in HB2201 as applying only to direct costs of connecting individual net metered customers to a power company.

Has FirstEnergy changed their minds?  Or was Sammy hiding something from WV legislators?

Ms. Tincher does a great job of blowing Toddy’s argument out of the water, by pointing to studies done by PSCs in Missouri and Mississippi:

Among such reports is a Missouri Energy Initiative study, released in winter 2015, which evaluated the benefits and costs of net metering in Missouri, which has a similar fuel mix and retail electricity pricing to West Virginia.

The study quantified the benefits of load reduction and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to the costs associated with cross-subsidization among consumer groups, and increased administrative costs in managing a new customer class between 2008 and 2012. According to the report, the net effect was positive for the state each year.

The MEI study also suggested benefits of a decentralized energy system, reduced energy prices, local economic boost from manufacturing and installation of net metering systems.

Another study, conducted by Synapse Energy Economics Inc. for the Public Service Commission of Mississippi in September 2014, modeled the costs and benefits of net metering to the state of Mississippi, which doesn’t currently employ a net metering program. The agency’s Total Resource Cost assessment, which included costs of solar panel installation and administrative costs, as well as benefits of avoided costs to the utility, suggested net metered solar rooftop would result in $27 per MWh of net benefits to the state of Mississippi.

FirstEnergy and AEP had better watch out.  If similar studies are done for the WV PSC, they may have to end up paying net metered customers more for their electricity, not less, to pay us for the benefits we give to all customers.  By the way, that is called a feed-in tariff.

HB2201 Now on Gov. Tomblin’s Desk: Veto Needed

HB2201 is back on Gov. Tomblin’s desk.  He has until Saturday to veto it.  He needs to veto HB2201 a second time.  HB2201 is completely unnecessary, because net metering was protected in HB2001, and all of the contents of HB2201 are already covered in the WV PSC’s net metering rules.

The Charleston Daily Mail ran an op ed by eastern panhandle solar power installer Bill Anderson today that does a good job of explaining why Gov. Tomblin should veto HB2201.  His piece contains this common sense nugget:

HB 2201 is not a good bill. Good bills are written to fix a well-defined problem. The purpose of HB 2201 is obscure to both legislators and the public.
A week ago, the Charleston Gazette ran my op ed that provides a little more detail about how HB2201 got so bad.  My piece also shows how AEP and FirstEnergy lobbyists perverted the course of an initially well-intentioned bill.
The result of all this meddling and manipulation is that HB2201 is now a mess that casts a cloud of regulatory uncertainty over business investment and innovation in West Virginia.
And as Mr. Anderson concludes his piece:

I respectfully request that Gov. Tomblin veto this bill again. (He vetoed an earlier version due to technical flaws).

A veto will serve the interests the governor’s constituents and enhance the prospects for private investments in energy generation far into the future.

Electric Industry’s War on Solar Comes to WV

In the fight over preserving net metering, the electric industry’s war on solar, declared in 2013 by the Edison Electric Institute, has come to the WV Legislature.  The war has come in the form of two vague and misleading words, “cross-subsidization”.

As House Bill 2001 moved through the Legislature early in the 2015 session, another bill, HB2201 was introduced.  HB2001 repealed the do-nothing ARPS law that was put in place by then-Gov. Manchin and the coal industry in 2009, but preserved the section of the law that authorized the WV PSC to institute net metering in WV.

HB2201 attempted to add a definition of net metering back into the newly constituted net metering law preserved in HB2001 .  However, that definition was slightly modified to add new restrictions on which solar power producers were eligible for net metering.  This modification, which changed an “or” to “and” from the definition of net metering which had been in another section of the ARPS law, signaled that AEP and FirstEnergy, the two Ohio-based holding companies that control WV’s electrical system, were going to use HB2201 to perform stealth attacks on net metering that most legislators thought they had “saved.”

When HB2201 passed out of the House, Del. Folk, a Republican from Berkeley County, successfully added an amendment to the bill which read:

The [Public Service] commission shall assure that any net metering tariff does not create a cross-subsidization between customers within one class of service.

This was the first time the words “cross-subsidization” had crept into the policy discussion about net metering in WV.  The word “subsidization” is part of the power industry’s propaganda lexicon in its fight against solar power.  It is a buzzword implying falsely that solar power needs subsidies to compete “in the marketplace” with fossil fuel power, which is portrayed as requiring no subsidies.

This characterization is particularly ironic in WV considering that the WV PSC has just saddled WV rate payers with huge subsidies to protect AEP’s Mitchell Plant near Moundsville and FE’s Harrison Plant near Clarksburg from having to compete in wholesale energy markets with lower priced alternatives.  The Legislature did its part in 2013 by dumping responsibility for AEP’s failed fuel choices in 2008 onto the company’s rate payers in the form of decades of bond payments to cover AEP’s coal costs with the deceptively named “consumer relief charge.”

Del. Folk’s “cross-subsidization” now joins “free loader” and “standby charges” and all the other propaganda that has been used by power companies in their fights against solar power in Republican-controlled states like Arizona, East Virginia and Wisconsin.

Throughout all solar advocates’ attempts to remove the cross-subsidization language from HB2201, power companies and legislators resisted any change.  In fact, the Senate added a definition of cross-subsidization to the bill which only made matters worse.

To be clear, HB2201 does not direct the PSC to make any changes to its rules concerning net metering.  Nor does the bill require power companies to make any changes in their current rate tariffs.  But the bill does create a legislative directive that could be used the AEP and FE to push for those changes in the future.

The possibility of an attack on net metering is essentially the same as it has always been.  The Ohio holding companies could have tried to add fees or change the way power producers are compensated in the base rate cases both companies filed at the PSC in 2014.  They chose not to attack in those cases, which indicates that attacking net metering is not a high priority for them, right now.

I have personally heard FirstEnergy’s lobbyist tell two different legislative committees that his company only intends the cross-subsidization language to apply to larger solar power systems that might require power companies to change their equipment for interconnection.  When solar advocates lobbied legislators to reflect these statements in changes to HB2201, both FirstEnergy and AEP refused to support the changes.  That is an indication that FirstEnergy is not willing to stand behind the verbal assurances of its lobbyist and may have other things in mind for the future.

So, with HB2201, the WV Legislature has created a classic case of regulatory uncertainty that now hangs over the entire solar power industry in our state.  Hundreds of WV citizens and businesses have made millions of dollars of investment in our state which is now at risk because of sloppy legislating and power company power plays.

West Virginians have one more chance to stop this attack on our state’s future.  Click here to send an email to Gov. Tomblin asking him to veto HB2201 when it crosses his desk in the coming week.  Send your email now, because time is limited.  You can also call the Governor’s Office on Monday morning at 304-558-2000.

Gov. Tomblin Signs HB 2001 Into Law

Gov. Tomblin signed HB 2001 into law today.  The bill repealed the Alternative and Renewable Energy Act of 2009 and replaced it with a statute titled “Net Metering of Customer-Generators,” preserving statutory authority for net metering.

SB 1 remains in the House Energy Committee.  HB 2201, a stand alone bill to insert a faulty definition into the net metering law, remains in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  While it looks more likely that these bills will languish in these committees for the rest of the session, they could be revived and might effect some further changes in the net metering law that Gov. Tomblin signed today.

Thanks to the vigilant and swift acting solar power community in WV, the new net metering law is a great victory for all West Virginians.  As a bonus, the veneer of having something called a portfolio standard has been stripped away from WV’s coal and gas industry controlled state government.

Solar Economics Picking Up Momentum in US

A recent study calculates that home solar power generation is now cheaper than centralized power in 42 of the 50 largest cities in the US.

“Right now, buying an average-sized, fully-financed solar PV system costs less than electricity from their local utility for 93 percent of single-family homeowners in America’s 50 largest cities, and in most places, is a better investment than many of the stocks that are in their 401(k),” said Jim Kennerly, project manager for the Going Solar in America report. “Nevertheless, most people are unaware that solar is this affordable for people of all walks of life.”

Many customers mistakenly think going solar requires having a lot of sunshine. The report points out that solar’s value to the customer is more about how much grid energy it can offset.

One of the fundamental problems here is that most people in the US have a poor understanding of how to calculate the value of different investment options.  High schools, and even colleges, don’t teach basic business math such as calculating net present value.  If you can’t calculate the terms of your own investment, you set yourself up to be exploited by the power companies that benefit from your ignorance.

Solar is not just competitive in markets with high electric rates.

It’s no surprise that places with high electricity rates — New York, Boston and several cities in California — claimed some of the top spots on the list. But the study found that solar is also competitive in Kansas City, Atlanta, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Wichita, Columbus and other smaller markets.

That’s because low electricity prices don’t necessarily mean consumers save money. U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows that customer in regions with the lowest rates tend to use the most energy and pay the highest bills. For instance, in 2012, the latest year with vetted data, customers in the South Atlantic region paid 11.4 cents per kilowatt-hour on average and $123 for their monthly bill, whereas customers in New England paid 15.7 cents per kilowatt-hour and only $100 on their monthly bill.

The rate/bill comparison is one I have made on The Power Line in the past.

The report also compared an investment in your own solar power with an investment in stocks.  Low interest rates and investment returns are a big problem for a lot of small investors.  The study shows that in a lot of US cities, investing in your own solar panels is the best way to invest for retirement.

The report finds that for many of America’s 50 largest cities, the net present value of a dollar invested in solar (what the lifetime of the system is worth in today’s dollars) is greater than a dollar invested in the stock market.

In twenty of the 50 cities, customers paying upfront with cash for a 5-kilowatt system will see greater returns than on the stock market over the 25-year life of the system. In 46 of the 50 cities, customers with a fully financed solar project will see better performance than the stock market. Financing over time benefits more people in all cities. San Jose ($23,171), San Francisco ($21,859) and Oakland ($21,839) came out on top.

Nigeria – One of Africa’s Most Prosperous Countries Has Collapsing Centralized Grid

This article from yesterday’s New York Times is a good companion piece to my recent post about Kenya’s M’KOPA.  Nigeria, the subject of the Times article, is more than 2000 miles from Kenya, but both countries are part of the same situation.

Over the last 50 years, African governments have seen the mass availability of electricity as a key to ending poverty in their countries.  The problem is that these governments imported highly centralized systems from the US and Europe.  These systems were expensive to build, and imposed heavy long term debt on Africans.  These systems are also very expensive to maintain.

Although wealthy oil-producing countries like Nigeria have a lot of oil to fuel their generating plants, the same ruling classes that rake off billions from oil exports also fail to invest in the maintenance that these expensive systems require for transmission and distribution.

Here is Mr. Adichie’s description of the situation in Nigeria:

Whenever I have been away from home for a while, my first question upon returning is always: “How has light been?” The response, from my gateman, comes in mournful degrees of a head shake.

Bad. Very bad.

The quality is as poor as the supply: Light bulbs dim like tired, resentful candles. Robust fans slow to a sluggish limp. Air-conditioners bleat and groan and make sounds they were not made to make, their halfhearted cooling leaving the air clammy. In this assault of low voltage, the compressor of an air-conditioner suffers — the compressor is its heart, and it is an expensive heart to replace. Once, my guest room air-conditioner caught fire. The room still bears the scars, the narrow lines between floor tiles smoke-stained black.

Sometimes the light goes off and on and off and on, and bulbs suddenly brighten as if jerked awake, before dimming again. Things spark and snap. A curl of smoke rises from the water heater. I feel myself at the mercy of febrile malignant powers, and I rush to pull my laptop plug out of the wall. Later, electricians are summoned and they diagnose the problem with the ease of a long acquaintance. The current is too high or too low, never quite right. A wire has melted. Another compressor will need to be replaced.

Mr. Adichie is a fiction writer, and his technical analysis is not all it should be in this piece, but he paints a clear picture of a distribution system with extremely poor voltage regulation, due mainly to failures to maintain substations and transformers, as well as deteriorating distribution and transmission lines.

Mr. Adichie describes how urban Nigerians (Rural Nigerians, like rural Kenyans simply have no access to centralized electricity.) cope with their collapsing grid.  He keeps a diesel generator available and runs it regularly.  He also owns a battery bank with an inverter to invert the AC from the central grid to the batteries’ DC current and then back again to AC when he uses electricity in his home.  When the centralized grid is on, he charges his batteries.  When power quits completely, he has some backup capacity.

Mr. Adichie’s personal solutions don’t really solve Nigeria’s electricity problems.  In fact, running his battery charger from the electric grid simply adds more loads to a system already beyond its capacity.  Running a generator simply shifts his energy source to the country’s overtaxed retail diesel fuel system.  Fuel is expensive, and, like Nigeria’s electricity, it’s quality is often poor.

Rural West Virginians face this same bad set of choices when our electrical system fails.  My neighbors immediately fire up their gas generators when Mon Power goes down.  For the next two days, all of the local gas stations run out of gas, because everyone needs fuel to keep their generators running.  The problem is not solved, it is just pushed to a different fragile system.  And people burn even more gas just driving around to find an open gas station.

As I have learned, and as people in rural Kenya are learning, we don’t need to consume massive amounts of electricity.  We just need enough.  When we become wise about what electricity we need, we find that we can produce our own electricity.  That lesson is the same in a Kenyan village as it is in Chloe, WV.

There are more connections between WV and rural Africa than you might think.  New Vision in Philippi, WV is bring solar-powered light and real reliable power to villages from Kenya to Liberia.  They are doing what West Virginians do best, helping their neighbors, even when their neighbors are 5000 miles away.

Kenya’s M’KOPA Pioneers Decentralized Power

Kenya is on the leading edge of decentralized solar power.  M’KOPA provides a 4 watt solar panel, three LED lights, a DC radio and a cell phone charger, all in a box.  The kit costs about $200.  The purchaser makes a small down payment and uses his/her cell phone to make small daily payments, about $.45, for one year.  Once the system is paid off, a code is transmitted by cell phone, and the charger system is unlocked.  Free electricity follows, for the life of the solar panel.

80% of Kenyans live off the electrical grid.  A few lights, a radio and a cell phone charger are life altering changes for most of these families.

Here’s how an article on Bloomberg explained it:

The M-KOPA system, which is marketed by dealers in Nairobi and western Kenya, comprises a 4-watt rooftop solar panel, a control box that attaches to the wall of a home or business, three lamps and mobile-phone chargers.

Under the payment plan, the system costs 16,900 shillings, or about $199, in a country where the annual per-capita income is $820. Clients make a down-payment of 2,500 shillings and then daily installments of 40 shillings until it’s paid off.

After that, the owners get power for free. By comparison, Kenyan families spend an average of 50 shillings a day on kerosene to light their homes and fees to have their mobile phones charged at places that have electricity, according to research by M-KOPA.

George Miruka, a 36-year-old father of four, said he stopped worrying about the fire-risk from kerosene lamps after outfitting his mud-walled hut with an M-KOPA system last month. “My children are safe,” Miruka said.

Even if you can connect to the grid, you need $412 just to hook up.  Then you have to pay for the electricity.  With the M’KOPA system, once you pay your $200, your electricity is free.

This is the future of decentralized electricity, and the innovations will come from places like Kenya and India.

Karl Cates – The Other War: Underreported but Not Insignificant

Karl Cates has an excellent piece over at the IEEFA blog that will give you a good look at how decentralized solar power is under attack by the electrical industry around the US.  Cates also describes how this story is being suppressed in the US media.

Here’s what Mr. Cates has to say:

But there is a war on solar. It’s happening nationally in congressional reluctance to extend tax credits that encourage solar-energy development. It is being waged locally and effectively in states that most recently include Hawaii, Indiana and Washington, where utility and mining interests have had lawmakers draft legislation to put restrictions on solar development.

Organizations pressing the war on solar are numerous and well funded. They include the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a regressive organization that brings big companies and lawmakers together to write or rewrite state laws. (ALEC has crossed the line in so many ways on so many issues that some high-profile corporate members have left out of sheer embarrassment, including most recently Northrop Grumman and—before them—Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Kraft.)

Other soldiers in the war on solar include the Edison Electric Institute, a Washington-based utility-company association that lobbies Congress; Americans for Tax Reform, the Grover Norquist group that focuses maniacally on undermining the financial stability of the U.S. government; and Americans for Prosperity, the shadowy and notoriously well-financed organization that works at the behest of the industrialist Koch Brothers.

The goal of the war on solar, of course, is to kill a budding industry before it can get its legs. Much of its strategy is in a state-by-state campaign the employs two tactics: reducing state-government commitments to the percentage of energy acquired from renewables and repealing “net-metering” laws that fairly compensate homeowners and businesses for the solar energy they produce.

The stakes in the war on solar are not insignificant. The Solar Energy Industries Association, which has been around since 1973, reports it its latest numbers that 36 percent of all new electricity-generation capacity in the U.S. in the first three quarters of 2014 came from solar. It puts the total number of solar-industry jobs in the U.S. at 174,000, almost twice the number of coal-mining jobs nationally.

Yet the war on solar remains starkly underreported, and vastly deserving of much more and better coverage than it’s gotten so far.

Regular readers of The Power Line are familiar with my posts on efforts in other states to suppress decentralized power, stretching back to my post on EEI’s strategic report on the industry’s plan to, as Mr. Cates puts it, “kill a budding industry before it can get its legs.”

While the Republican leadership in the WV Legislature has preserved net metering in its recent repeal of WV’s ARPS law, lobbyists from the two Ohio-based holding companies that control WV’s electrical system have managed to get amendments to the new net metering bills that open the door for future mischief for ALEC and its minions.  Citizens have let our legislators know that we are watching them closely.

Oak Park, IL Microgrid Project Moving Forward

I posted back in 2013, here and here, about the pioneering project to turn more than 100 homes in Oak Park, IL into a resilient microgrid.  The project is moving forward as you can see from this link.

Here is the latest from Oak Park’s Web site.

A project to demonstrate the potential cost savings of electric smart grid technologies in Oak Park took a step closer to implementation Monday, as the Village Board confirmed its commitment to environmental sustainability by hiring an organization credited with creating the national model for smart grid project planning, implementation and management.

Pecan Street Inc., a not-for-profit research organization located at The University of Texas at Austin, was hired to assist in preparing to launch the Oak Park Smart City USA Project, which will link as many as 200 Oak Park homes and residential buildings into a neighborhood smart grid.

“Having the demonstrated knowledge, experience and expertise in getting smart grid projects up and running is a major step toward achieving our goal of keeping Oak Park a leader in environmental initiatives,” said Village President Anan Abu-Taleb. “With Pecan Street’s assistance, we can move closer to implementing a project that will underscore the Village’s commitment to environmental sustainability.”

Smart City USA began in 2010 as a partnership between the Village, the Korea Smart Grid Institute (KSGI) and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), with coordination support from the Wagner Institute for Sustainable Energy Research at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

The project entails installing equipment such as solar panels with batteries that would allow residences to collect and store energy for personal use and to sell back to the grid during peak times. Property owners would not have to pay any equipment or installation costs. KSGI and state grants will help fund the project.

Plans call for having 100 single-family homes and 100 multiple-family units participate, with the number of multi-unit buildings depending upon the number of units in each. Participants would form a micro-grid featuring two-way information and energy flow. Their aggregated energy data and usage would be managed through a cloud-based network operating center, which may include a public monitoring screen at Village Hall.

More than 300 Oak Park property owners already have expressed an interest in participating via an online form at www.oak-park.us/smartcityusa that gathered basic information to ensure the property was compatible with the program’s basic needs.

WV Senate Passes SB 1 with Net Metering Protection

Just a little while ago, the WV Senate passed Senate Bill 1, repealing all of the current Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard law, except for the authorization of net metering in WV.  The Senate Bill 1 renames the law, §24-2F Net Metering of Customer Generators.

Two amendments were added to the bill.  An amendment was added in the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining committee to allow customer generators to donate excess net metering credits to charities that provide assistance for low income electric customers.  The other amendment was added on the floor today that requires the PSC to ensure that no costs of net metering are passed on to other rate payers.  Of course, this has never been a problem in WV, and the intent of this amendment has long been covered by §24-3-2 which prevents power companies from giving any special treatment to any group of rate payers.  Net metering has operated for 7 years in WV under this existing statute without any problems.

Earlier in the week, Senate President Cole made it clear that SB 1 will be on the fast track after it crosses over to the House.  The Charleston Gazette reporter Phil Kabler reported earlier in the week:

Cole expects the legislation to be passed and sent to the governor by the end of the week.
That is what the fast track looks like at the WV Legislature.  We will finally be rid of the fake ARPS law that holds back renewable power development AND, thanks to active and effective citizens, we will still have net metering protected in law.


Alliance for Solar Choice’s Bryan Miller Shuts Hoppy Down

Hoppy Kercheval had Bryan Miller of the Alliance for Solar Choice on his radio show this morning.  Hoppy offered up every bogus argument against net metering that you have read about here on The Power Line over the past five years.  Bryan hammered him on every one.

Here is a link to Hoppy’s show today.  The interview with Mr. Miller starts at 14 minutes in.

Mr. Miller answered Hoppy’s “free rider” argument with a very important point.  Mr. Miller understands the physics of electricity.  He pointed out to Hoppy that electrons take the shortest route along the path of least resistance in an electrical circuit.  The electrons that flow back through a solar customer generator’s meter flow directly to the nearest loads to the generator’s house.  That means that the electrons that I produce and sell back to Mon Power go directly to my next door neighbors.

The only part of Mon Power’s grid that my net metered electrons use is a very short stretch of wire to my neighbor’s house.  Why should I pay extra or accept less for my electricity, because I’m not paying my “fair share” of Mon Power’s grid expenses?  The fact is that I don’t use much of that grid, so my “fair share” is almost zero.

Hoppy raised the issue about why customer generators should receive retail instead of wholesale prices for net metered energy.  Mr. Miller responded by saying that customer generators’ electrons pass directly through the nearest wires and pass through the power company’s meter at our neighbors’ houses where those neighbors are charged retail rates for those electrons.  It is only fair that power companies should not be able to profit from that neighbor to neighbor transaction by artificially buying low (from net metered generators at wholesale) and reselling those same electrons to their neighbors at retail.  Net metering transactions, all at retail pricing, prevent power company monopolies from reaping that windfall.

Through out the interview, Hoppy never asked a follow-up question or contested anything Mr. Miller said.  The interview was a huge win for solar in WV.  The Alliance for Solar Choice, a national advocacy organization, deserves our thanks for making Mr. Miller available to speak directly to West Virginians about net metering facts.

West Virginians Standing Up to Protect Net Metering

Back in 2009, the WV Legislature passed the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard law.  For years, Republicans have falsely claimed that the law was a “cap and trade” assault on the coal industry, and Democrats mistakenly claimed that the law helped renewable power.  Neither of these claims is true.

Republicans and Coal Democrats jumped on the ARPS law right out of the chute at the Legislature this year, introducing repeal bills in both houses, Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 2001.  Both bills are identical.  They repeal all sections of the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard law.

As we know, the law did nothing to help development of new renewable power in WV.  FirstEnergy lobbyist Sammy Gray admitted this yesterday to the Charleston Gazette’s reporter Phil Kabler:

While proponents of the bill criticized the law for putting, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, termed it, “onerous requirements on power companies,” FirstEnergy lobbyist Sammy Gray said the power company already can meet the alternative energy requirements through the use of waste coal, supercritical pulverized coal and hydroelectric power.

Asked if other power companies operating in the state also can comply with the act, Gray told House members, “My understanding is they can meet these standards, also, but I can only speak for FirstEnergy.”

So, repeal of the ARPS law matters little to WV’s solar power industry, EXCEPT that it includes the only legislative authorization of WV’s net metering rules. Those net metering rules require power companies to buy surplus power from WV homeowners and businesses at the same rates that these customers pay for power.  Hundreds of homeowners and small business people have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in solar power equipment because of this commitment from the Legislature in 2009.  These installations have created hundreds of new jobs for West Virginians.  Repeal of the net metering provisions of the 2009 would undercut all this investment.

Take a look at the first page of the WV PSC’s current net metering rules.  See that “1.2. Authority. — W. Va. Code§ 24-2F-1 et seq.”?  That is the ARPS law.  If the ARPS law is repealed, the legislative authority for the PSC’s net metering rules, among the best in the US, is removed.

Fortunately, citizens across WV mobilized to let legislators know about this problem.  We had only a few hours in which to do it, because, in a surprise move, newly appointed Republican committee chairs in both Senate Energy, Industry and Mining and House Energy put the repeal bills before their committees for a vote.  Members of these committees reported receiving over 90 emails and phone calls in the span of three hours before their committees met.

There was extensive discussion of the net metering problem in the Senate EIM committee.  Democratic Sen. Herb Snyder and Republican Senator Mitch Carmichael, both spoke in favor of amending the repeal bill to keep net metering authorization in the WV Code, no matter what happened with the rest of the ARPS law.  As Phil Kabler reports:

Senate Energy Committee members delayed advancing their version of the bill Thursday, to allow a rewrite that will repeal most of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Act — but retain the net metering provisions.

This is a major victory for everyone in West Virginia who wants to reduce electric rates and break the monopoly hold that Ohio-based AEP and FirstEnergy have over our electrical system.

The House repeal bill was voted out of House Energy unchanged and moves to the House Judiciary Committee.  The House needs to address the net metering issue, and so far, the Republican leadership has failed in their “leadership” on the net metering issue.

If you support solar power development in WV, you can let legislators know.  WV Sun has set up two easy Web-based messages that you can send to our legislators.  You can send them a general message stating your support for solar power in WV at this link.  You can also send targeted emails to members of the Senate EIM committee and the House Judiciary committee (the next stop for HB2001) at this link.

Don’t wait.  Send these messages now.  To be effective, communicating with legislators has to be done at exactly the right time.  Now is that time.

Repeal of Net Metering May Be Big on Industry Agenda in 2015

The new Republican leadership in the WV Legislature may give new life to past attempts to repeal net metering for solar power producers in WV.  Republican and coal Democratic legislators have introduced bills to repeal sections of WV’s fake Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard law every year since the bill was passed in 2009.

Here is the information on the bill introduced last year.  Note that the bill includes the repeal of §24 – 2 F- 8 of the WV Code.  That is the paragraph that created a mandate in law for WV power companies to offer net metering to their customers.

If you have installed photovoltaic generating equipment on your home or business, and you are connected to the grid, you need to watch the 2015 legislative session very closely.  I guarantee you that a net metering repeal bill will be introduced again this year.  If this section of the ARPS law is passed, investments in solar power by West Virginians will be in serious jeopardy.

Readers of The Power Line know that almost all of the Manchin/coal industry ARPS law is actually an assault on renewable power in WV.  Republicans have made the silly, and thoroughly untrue, claim that the ARPS law created “cap and trade” (a meaningless term in this context) in WV.  In fact, the law completely insulated AEP and FirstEnergy from any requirement to support new renewable power capacity in our state.  For these reasons, most of the ARPS law could be repealed without any negative impact on renewable power in WV.

The net metering section of the law, §24 – 2 F- 8, is the one exception.  Repeal of this section will be a seizure by the Legislature of property rights guaranteed to WV citizens when the law passed in 2009.  Many citizens and business owners relied on this law, and their ability to sell power back to power companies, when they invested thousands of dollars in their systems.

If the Republican majority in the WV Legislature is serious about protecting private property and small businesses, they will block any attempts to repeal the net metering section of WV’s ARPS law.  Solar power producers in WV need to stand up and fight on this issue, or we will lose everything we have fought for in the last 20 years.

AEP Transmission Line Pulled in Arkansas

The Southwest Power Pool just dumped AEP’s planned 345 kV transmission project in Arkansas.

It was the same old story:

On December 29, 2014, SWEPCO received a notification letter from SPP stating that updated electric load forecasts showing lower future electric demand in North Arkansas than prior forecasts for the area critical to the Facilities, and the recent cancellation of several large, long-term transmission service reservations, establish that the Facilities are no longer needed to meet the reliability needs in the region.


Because of SPP’s determination that the Facilities are no longer needed, and its decision to initiate the process of withdrawing its NTC, SWEPCO no longer seeks the relief requested and hereby withdraws its Application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need in order that this docket may be closed forthwith.

Citizens have won another big victory against multi-state holding company AEP’s transmission onslaught.

We already knew from expert Hyde Merrill (yup, that Hyde Merrrill) that the line wasn’t needed, so it was only a matter of time until SPP pulled the plug.

Congratulations to Save the Ozarks and all the citizens who worked so hard to stop this line that wasn’t needed.

Among all the Arkansas/Missouri media outlets, only the Joplin Globe appears to be the only one that went beyond reprinting AEP/SWEPCo’s press release.  The Globe’s story is the only one that includes interviews with citizens.